Bertha Ann Rank, born in Germany and the Reverend Louis Bernard of Michigan were married in the small town of Folsom, Traverse County, Minnesota on August 4, 1890. Their first child, daughter Sabra Regina was born the following year in Page, Cass County, North, Dakota. Brother William Henry followed in 1894. Father Louis served in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. By 1903 her parents had divorced with Louis remarrying Jennie Nancy Harris on December 9 of that year in Latah, Idaho. Sabra lived with her mother who was employed as a hospital nurse in Traverse County, Minnesota. On May 30, 1916 her mother married Mr. David L. Perry and they resided in Verndale, Wadena County, Minnesota.
Sabra attended the first 3 grades of school in Jamestown, North Dakota and the next five in Livingston, Montana. She then graduated after completing four years of high school at Brown Valley, Minnesota. During her high school years she helped her mother in a small hospital at Brown Valley and following graduation taught in a country school for a year. Following her mother into the nursing profession Sabra graduated from the Ashbury Hospital School of Nursing in Minneapolis, Minnesota about 1913 and then entered private nursing practice. Her mother wrote of her daughter “Sabra was a member of a Baptist Church, strictly temperance, always kind and considerate of her friends and took well with strangers. She was in great demand while in private nursing. At high school she was one of their best basketball players, enjoyed skating and swimming. She was my only daughter and is missed more than I can tell. Sabra was first to sign up and willing to go overseas”.
The United Stated declared war on Germany, April 6, 1917 and entered the World War that had been raging in Europe since 1914. Obviously, doctors and nurses would be needed. With only 403 nurses in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) when the war began, the Surgeon General called for volunteers. Women in hospitals and private duty as well as many in training responded. Those already staffing hospitals could join the ANC through the Army’s newly established base hospital system and through the American Red Cross. By the end of the war, 21,480 women served in the Army Nurse Corps rendering service “beyond expectations” at a time when women were not even allowed to vote”.
On December 10, 1917 Sabra entered active duty with the Red Cross Army Nurses Corps. She was sent to Camp Travis, San Antonio, Texas for training and then served at the Base Hospital there for eight months. In a letter dated January 27, 1918 and written on YMCA stationary she wrote to her mother and stepfather; “Your letter came to me a little while ago and I was so glad to hear from you for I’d expected to hear sooner. I hope you are well and things are going well for you at home. We surely work hard here. It takes one with mighty good health to stand such work. I’ve been on night duty not quite two weeks. Have 4 wards (156 men) to look after. There are 2 ward men (soldier boys who are assigned to hospital duty our of Hosp. Corps) in each ward to help. The major wants us to teach them how to do everything so I’ve taught my eight how to give temp., sponge baths, make beds, give medicines & hypos & take temperatures & they can do it as well as I & if I get tied up with a very bad patient they can go right ahead. I’m very proud of them & they are good as gold. The boys in this camp are drafted men mostly and are a very find class of boys, many of them from wealthy homes. We just got over a ‘northern’ 2 days ago & the weather is beautiful since. The moon is so wonderful tonight, the ground looks as if there were snow on it, but there isn’t because I looked. I haven’t even needed my cape to go from one ward to the other. I shed my winter woolens for summer things & I bet there will be a puff & a spurt of breeze & a ‘norther’ come in behind it and freeze us to death again most any time. This is too good to last. I had a letter from Alex yesterday & he put in a $10.00 bill & I was mighty glad to see it. I should think the guards would get dreadfully sleepy pacing up & down these roads between the wards with their guns over their shoulder. My first ward has 36 patients with mumps (often pneumonia) and they are so sick & uncomfortable. Everyone is pretty quiet now. The 2nd one is 38 meningitis carriers & my 3rd & 4th both have 34 pneumonia cases & they are severely sick men. There are the 4 types of pneumonia & types 3 & 4 are peculiarly fatal to especially the northern boys who are here. Type one we treat with a serum with wonderful success, but there is none yet for the other 3 types. There is lots of meningitis here now & pneumonia & measles are dreadful. Wash D. C. wrote our major that in the near future a hosp. unit is to be made up & sent from this camp to France & we had to give our names if we were willing to go. My name went first but there are 100 nurses to choose 30 from so I may not be chosen at all”.
Sabra was chosen and on September 9, 1918 departed New York harbor aboard the SS Melita with 2,356 passengers, mostly soldiers. She listed her father, Rev. Louis Hardy of Golden Valley, North Dakota as the next of kin. Arriving in France on September 22, she was assigned to Base Hospital # 54 that had been established in the commune of Mesves, department of Nievre and received its first patients just ten days earlier. Sabra may have contacted influenza on the trip to France as her mother wrote she was sick upon arrival. US Army Nurse Sabra Regina Hardy died of pneumonia in the service of her country on Friday, October 4, 1918, just thirteen days after reporting for duty in France. She was twenty-seven years of age.
Her parents were notified by cablegram a few days later. An undated, unidentified newspaper clipping stated “Miss Hardy was given a military funeral in France with Red Cross Nurses and military attaches marching in the procession”. She was buried in temporary grave # 51, American Cemetery, commune of Mesves, department of Nievre that is 100 miles from Paris. Base Hospital 54 continued the business of caring for the sick and wounded beyond the Armistice of November 11, 1918. The unit left St. Nazaire, France May 16, 1919 on the ship Dakotan and demobilized at Camp Grant, Illinois, May 30.
Following the World War families of fallen American Military were given the choice of leaving their sons/daughters buried in an American Cemetery in Europe with their comrades or bring them home for reburial. Sabra’s family chose to leave her with those she served and served with as did approximately 40% of the families facing the same, no doubt heart-wrenching decision. On August 17, 1922, she was disinterred for the final time and reburied in the Saint Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial, Thiaucourt-Regnieville, Departement de Meurthe-et-Moselle, Lorraine, France. Grave 9, Row 26, Plot B. Day is done, God is nigh.
In 1929 Congress enacted legislation that paid the travel expenses to the grave sites for mothers and widows whose sons and husbands had died overseas as members of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) during the war and whose remains are now interred in such cemeteries. Congress later extended eligibility for pilgrimages to mothers and widows of men who died and were buried at sea or who died at overseas and whose places of burial were unknown. The cost would be $5 million dollars and 6,693 eligible women would accept the invitation. The program would continue until October 1933. In late 1929, Mrs. Bertha Ann Perry, RFD # 2, Verndale, Minnesota was contacted about her desires to make the trip to France to visit her daughter’s grave. She indicated she would after 1930. In the following months she received detailed instructions on all aspects of the trip including what type of clothing to take as France had much cooler weather than the United States. Nothing was left to chance. The government paid all of her expenses. On August 12, 1931, almost 13 years after the death of her daughter Sabra, Bertha who was 63 years old, sailed on the USS America from New York with 410 other Gold Star Mothers/Widows. They would spend almost four weeks in France reunited with their loved ones. Her party arrived back in New York on September 11 aboard the SS President Roosevelt. After a day or so all departed for their homes and lives, deeply satisfied and as one Gold Star mother from Minnesota put it “I would not take a million dollars for my trip”.
Epilogue: Mother Bertha died the following year, November 23, 1932 and is buried in the Greenlawn Cemetery, Verndale, Wadena County, Minnesota. Father Louis passed in 1939. Brother William survived the War and lived to age 60. Stepbrother Donald died in an unknown accident at age 18 while serving with the Army Air Service in the Philippines. Stepbrother Lester served with the US Navy in WW II and has been missing in action since 1942.
It was my honor to write this short biography from available documents found. I know it doesn’t start to do Sabra or her family justice. Lest we forget…Larry E. Hume, Chief Master Sergeant, US Air Force, Retired.
NURSE BASE HOSPITAL 54. A. N. C.
Gravesite Details Minnesota